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Immersing in a new culture

"First came the basics, and then came the grammar. Two and a half months into my exchange and my German has improved tremendously"

First came the basics, and then came the grammar. Two and a half months into my exchange and my German has improved tremendously.

My particular exchange is arranged for me to have two host families. I say this because my first has a very limited English vocabulary and due to my lack of German vocabulary upon my arrival it made getting to know one another slightly more difficult.

However on the other hand it forced me into the language right away and in regards to my improvement it was and is a very good thing.

Despite the language barrier I quickly settled in with my first host family in the small village of Ruschwedel; home to only 500 residents.

In my host family I have a host sister who is now off on her own exchange, as well as a host brother, three horses and a rabbit.

To explain the landscape of where I am living I must first remove all the renowned mountains of British Columbia because unlike B.C., Northern Germany is flat.

However, the horizon is something worth witnessing, it reveals a perfect line of where sky meets countryside.

With so many differences and new things around me, up until now everything has gone by so fast.

The most noticeable obviously being language and culture.

At first, I felt as if I was in the shoes of a child; with everyone speaking and communicating around me and I myself only being able to grasp a few words.

Looking back I realize how much these experiences taught me.

Such experiences included meeting my sponsoring Rotary Club which is Rotary Club Stade as well as attending the first Inbound Orientation.

This is when the 66 multinational exchange students from my district come together.

Putting our languages and cultures aside I had to take a moment to appreciate just how much we define the international ties that Rotary creates.

Throughout the year my group of inbounds will meet several more times including once for the EuroTour.

This is a three week long tour at the end of May where we will travel through different towns and cities in Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, and Belgium. This is something I am really looking forward to.

It was interesting at this orientation to hear all the different levels of German and talk about how each of us learned what we knew.

For me, my first steps to learning the language began with lots of fast improvement with each proceeding step containing less improvement and taking longer to reach.

It sounds terrible, but the feeling of accomplishment after reaching a step is very satisfying.

The hardest time for me is right before I am about to improve because I can hear myself making all sorts of mistakes.

Nevertheless my host family helps me with my reading and journaling almost everyday.

With that in mind, they are also doing a great job at immersing me into their culture.

It was with them that I experienced Oktoberfest and it was a great way to learn more about Germany’s culture first hand.

For the most part I find German’s to be down-to-earth, organized, and punctual people.

There are also several dialects within Germany including some that sound nothing like ‘traditional German’, which is the German I am learning.

For six weeks I attended a German crash course with two other girls from my Rotary Club as well as four other exchangers from different programs.

With so much to learn I am almost always exhausted by the end of the day.

High school is also tiring although I have a relatively good understanding in my classes and the students have been very helpful and friendly.

At the end of August I chose to break off all instant communication from home until around Christmas time.

This was simply to better immerse myself into school, the culture, and the language as well as to overall set myself up for a better exchange.

And this is why I cannot express enough the gratitude I have for all the support around me. By means of Rotary Club Stade, my host family, other exchange students as well as classmates in my school.

The decision for me to break off communication was not an easy one to make nevertheless I am glad I made it.

Previous exchanges have shown that it really does pay off and with just over a month surpassed it has already proven so.

Even as I miss my family, with every small accomplishment I make such as dreaming in German, understanding a conversation, or even reaching that next step, I just think how proud they would be of me. And that is support from them enough.

Danielle Clarke was a J.L. Crowe Secondary work experience student at the Trail Times last year and is currently in Germany as a Rotary Exchange student.